Having to hide who you are is nothing new to most LGBTQ people. As children, we were too young to fully articulate what it was that we felt inside, we just knew we are different. For those of us who live at the intersection of more than one identity, the navigation from one community to another gets complicated. Coming out as gay or Jewish is something I’ve done countless times, but coming out as Black was never my choice. As a gay Black Jewish man, I have to be intentional about how and when I come out. Walking into most situations, I am in the minority because of at least one of my identities. As a result, I often ask myself if I’d rather come out (as gay or Jewish) and be seen as a more complete me or to be judged solely on the basis of my skin color.
I share that because during Pride month, we (the LGBTQ community) are supposed to be “out and proud,” to celebrate the progress we have made since the Stonewall Uprising. The word “uprising” is used intentionally. An uprising is a revolt against the status quo. An uprising is meant to quake the world around us and form a new normal. An uprising is when the people take a stand and say, “Enough!” The intention—with acts of defiance, acts of rage and passion—is to make sure nothing can go back to how it was before. That is what happened at Stonewall that June day in 1969. Six police officers arrived at the doors of The Stonewall Inn announcing a raid and people had had enough. On June 28, 1969, with the frustration having welled up inside from years of persecution and pain, someone threw a brick through a window and thus began the Stonewall Uprising.
An issue that needs attention is that Black trans people are dying at a disproportionate rate. Their alarming death rate remains hidden from us as these murders go largely untracked. Over the past month or so, there have been at least 5 trans women of color murdered. These murders are often underreported and uninvestigated. As we are remembering and saying names, let us make sure to include their names—Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and Monika Diamond. [Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this piece, two more trans women of color – Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells – were murdered.]
In moments like this, I am reminded of two quotes. The first from Emma Lazarus,
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
The other from a Jewish text called Pirkei Avot, (“Ethics of Our Fathers”),
“You are not obligated to complete the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you free to desist from it.”
I share these quotes to honor what we have come together to do.
We must remember that no matter how inclusive we aim to be, we all have a blind spot. We must be willing to share our insight with others so that we can move closer to the goal of perfecting the world.
First, let us educate ourselves to understand our complicity in this systemic cycle of institutionalized racism. Inside our community, people are ostracized and attacked because they don’t match our picture of what a typical Jewish person looks like.
Second, stand up and speak out. We as a community are not new to organizing and showing up when and where there is persecution or an attack on the Jewish community. Stand with your Jewish family of color. Show us that you see us and respect us. Remember that tikkun olam (repairing the world) applies internally to our community, just as it does externally.
Lastly, hold each other accountable to do better. This fight for justice will be a long and difficult struggle. We must hold ourselves accountable to do something to move the needle. There are so many ways to get involved. In this dire moment, silence and inaction mean complicity in and endorsement of a broken, racist system that targets and oppresses BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color).
The group that I helped build, Capital Qvellers, was created for Jewish LGBTQ young professionals to gather and have our whole selves valued and celebrated. Capital Qvellers is one such community in which we stand with not only our own Jews of Color, but with Jews of Color everywhere and the BIPOC community as a whole in this fight against injustice.
About the Author: Joe Levin-Manning is a passionate individual who can be always be found trying to build community in the DC area. When not organizing events for Capital Qvellers, Joe can often be found singing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC on stage or after rehearsal singing karaoke. An avid traveller, amateur cook and baker, Joe loves to find new ways to connect with others and bring them together.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.